Monday, November 22, 2010

Sister Daw Moe Swe: The Red Matron

A large crowd followed and pressed around Jesus. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 

When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in crowd and kept looking to see who had touched his clothes. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and told him. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Mark 5:24-33

CPB Central Committee on Pegu-Yoma Ranges (1956).
I was born in a jungle camp of CPB (Communist Party of Burma) HQ on the ranges of Pegu-Yoma in June 1956. My father then was a divisional military commander of CPB Peoples’ Army and my mother was a central committee member of CPB Women Congress. Before they joined the Party my father was an ex-army officer and my mother a young high school student. They met in the jungle and got married with approval of the Party.

Started in March 1948 the flames of Communist rebellion were still burning bright but the military situation in the mid 1950 was not in their favor like before in the beginning. Not only losing all their strongholds in the population centers of middle Burma the Communist were now being chased like the wild pigs in the jungle by the troops loyal to U Nu’s AFPFL Government while the pro-government militia kept them away from the towns and large villages.

In the beginning of 1956 a huge military operation named Aungmaga was launched against the CPB Central Committee HQ in the Pakoku District. Led by Colonel Kyi Win the Tenth Brigade of Burmese Army even captured the CPB HQ in early March 1956. When I was born the base military hospital was just a makeshift jungle camp comprising a couple of thatch-roofed bamboo huts in an abandoned teak plantation called Palway Kyowaing on the Pegu-yoma north west of Pyimanar.

There were male paramedics and a couple of midwives-cum-nurses and the matron was sister Daw Moe Swe, according to my mother. The camp basically had nothing decent to eat except the bamboo shoots and wild rock melons from the jungle floor. To feed my mother and the wounded comrades Daw Moe Swe and her fellow nurses and medics had to forage the jungle.

My mother was seriously malnourished and she was so thin and thus produced an extremely underweight baby. I was just a tiny skeleton covered with shriveled skin. This was what she so often said so many years later when I became an adult fairly big and strong.

“I couldn’t watch whenever Aunty Daw Moe Swe tried to inject you with some medicine to keep you alive. You were so miserably thin, just bones and skin, she always had a hard time finding one of your veins and you were screaming with pain till you had no energy or voice left to cry out no more.”

I do not understand why these bloody Communists tried to breed in the jungle. Maybe they didn’t have condoms or contraceptive pills back then especially in a jungle. My sister born a year and half before me died within few days after birth and my mother was half expecting I could go the same way. But I survived miraculously even a brutal raid by the notorious Chin troops. According to my mother the Chins attacked the hospital camp one day and killed many and captured alive Daw Moe Swe and the rest but she with me on her back escaped into the jungle.


She and the baby finally ended up with the family of a Party sympathizer in nearby Pyimanar and a few weeks later I was given to her eldest sister from the Delta town of Moulmeingyun about 200 miles away from Pyimanar as she couldn’t take care of me anymore. She desperately wanted to go back into the jungle and joined my father and his rag tag gang of CPB’s Red Army. So she wrote to her sister to come meet her incognito at certain date and time at Pyimanar Railway Station.

The transfer of baby me was done unceremoniously on the noisily crowded platform of the Railway Station. According to my adopted mother her baby sister whom she hadn’t seen since she joined the underground CPB at least ten years ago suddenly appeared beside her in the crowd and handed her a small smelly bundle and a handwritten note and immediately disappeared without even saying a word.

The bundle was three months old me in my own liquidy shit as I then had a non-stop diarrhea. And the note contained my name and my date of birth. My mother couldn’t hang around too long as she was shit scared of being captured by the police or the army or the town’s militia.

My dear mother didn’t see me again till I was ten years old and she was captured alive together with my younger brother by the Chin troops and then released only after they had been kept at their battalion compound in Magwe for more than a year as hostages till my father agreed to surrender.

She was extremely lucky as the CO, Colonel Min Kyi, of the Chin Rifle Battalion which captured her was a young cadet officer in my father’s guerrilla battalion fighting the Japanese in the last year of the Second World War.

I had basically no maternal or paternal bonds with both my parents for I grew up a civil war orphan. My mother’s desperate cure for repairing that serious detachment was frequently telling me stories and events about that three months immediately after I was born and before I was abandoned. Daw Moe Swe was always there in her stories.

How she took care of me, how she kept me alive, how she suffered in the hands of Chin soldiers because of me, and why she gave me a life worth living. After the old lady was captured she still refused to surrender to the army and they finally charged her with treason and jailed her 10 years with hard labor.

After so many times hearing the stories I even started felling guilty for her being in a prison for that long as if she’d delivered only one Communist baby in her life and unfairly suffered for it. Only later I realized she was the head matron of all the Communist midwives and personally delivered or helped deliver hundreds of babies in various Communist field hospitals. I was probably the last Communist baby for her.


CPB Colonels Chit Kaung, Myo Myint, & Htun Hla (1956).
Eventually she was pardoned and she went back to her hometown Pakoku and lived with her aging mother and passed away peacefully in late 1970s. She came to Rangoon only once just before she died and my mother and many ex-commie mothers visited her at where she was staying. I was then in RIT and I was the only one in a university among the sorry bunch of jungle-born teenagers accompanying their mothers that day.

Almost all of them I met that day were troublesome kids as if their difficult jungle-births had basically damaged their brains. Drug-addicts and petty-criminals almost all of them according to their complaining mothers. But my mother didn’t say a bad thing about me to them even though I ran away from home at least three times. And she didn’t mention about me growing up basically in Aung-San-Thuria Hla Thaung Cadet Regiment the army-boarding-school for the miscreant sons of army officers.

Also she didn’t say anything about me trying to get into the Defense Services Academy (DSA) after the matriculation and how my father killed my lifelong dream by not signing the parental consent on my DSA application. I still remembered what he angrily told me then that he would never let me become an army officer and kill the Communists of CPB to whom I basically owed my life and thus my whole existence. 

She also didn’t tell them about me running away that year and joining the army as a private and the horrible fact that I’d fought and killed the Communists on the Chinese border in Kachin State for almost two long years in the army.

As my mother’s turn came to meet Daw Moe Swe and she introduced me to her the thin old lady said to me a few simple words that have stuck with me for the rest of my life.

“My sacrifices are well worth it as long as you’re doing something good for our country.”    

From that day onwards whenever I did something seriously bad I remembered her words and felt guilty. When I did have a chance to emigrate from Burma to Australia in 1986 I hesitated for over two years. Even today I still feel guilty for abandoning Burma in 1988 whenever I think of the thin old lady I met many years ago. 

Then one day in last week I accidentally clicked onto a Burmese democracy site called Myanmar ISP and pleasantly found an E-book named “Dawn Traveller” written by Yebaw Ngwe of CPB now in the Yunan Province of China. (For some reason the normally secretive CPB is now allowing or even seemed to be encouraging the old cadres to write their memoirs and I am now in heaven after discovering the books.)

In the book I found a whole chapter written about sister Daw Moe Swe the Red Matron of CPB.

The Red Matron

CPB's Yebaw Ngwe.
Yebaw Ngwe (a) Ma Kyi Lay had been with CPB since she was a 14 years old girl and she was once trained by Daw Moe Swe to become a Communist nurse in 1952 in Pakoku District in Upper Burma. She was captured by the army in 1959 and jailed for 2 years in Mandalay Prison. She rejoined the Party in the jungle in 1965 after she was released in 1961.

I translated Yebaw Ngwe own words about Daw Moe Swe to record her sacrifices for Burma and to honor the great midwife without whom I would have never survived the Burmese jungle and be able to write about Burma 50 odd years later. This translated and edited extracts is from Yebaw Ngwe’s Autobiography.

“In the summer of 1952 me and my husband were stranded at the base hospital of CPB Upper Burma HQ in Pakoku District on our way back from the Irrawaddy Delta. They discovered my husband had TB and he was immediately hospitalized and I stayed back to care for him.

The busy field hospital had so many patients and also many doctors and many medics since then was a time for the practice sessions for the students of 6 months long Medic Training School. There was also a Midwife Training School taught and headed by Aunty Daw Moe Swe.

A bit fair, tall, stout, and with fluid movement Aunty Daw Moe Swe was well-respected and loved by everybody there. Simple, straight forward, and not a hint of arrogance in Aunty. Being a Christian and a Communist she was willing to help anyone and everyone and thus her job really matched her. We all loved her dearly and called her Aunty. All the people from the nearby Ingyinbin Village also called her Daw Aunty.

She wasn’t very pretty but she had a good heart and a gentle sprit. If one looked carefully at her face one would know that she had very thin and pinkish lips. And she spoke calm and quiet. At that time Party was in a better position to provide for the professionals and, as an elder, she was provided with nourishing foodstuff like Ovaltine, Milo, and Horlick.

Aunty never used that expensive stuff alone. She always shared them with the needy patients. The fruits and vegetables and eggs whatever she was given she shared with the patients from the hospital or from the nearby village. She had a beautiful and generous heart.

I still remembered an incident while I was in the hospital. One young red army soldier was recovering from his wounds and he was pale and drained of energy. So daily he got drips and Ovaltine to regain his strength. But for some reason he refused to eat. The young nurses had hell of a time feeding him. So they told Aunty Daw Moe Swe.

Immediately Aunty went and saw him. Once he saw her the young soldier started crying and saying mother, mother. She just held him and gently stroke his back while saying not to cry.

‘Please do not cry. You’re gonna lose your energy. The nurses are telling me you said you felt bitter in your mouth. Open your mouth and show me your tongue. Oh, look you have white spots on your tongue, that’s why you don’t feel like eating. Don’t worry I’ll take care of that. Okay, just tell me what you really want to eat right now?’

‘I do want to eat the Chinbaung dish my mother always cooked for me,’ whispered the young man while still looking up at Aunty’s face.

‘Why didn’t you say so?’

‘I wanted to, but my mother is in the faraway Delta,’ replied the young soldier with tears down his cheeks.

‘Okay son, I’m like a mother to you all here. I’ll cook that Chinbaung dish for you. Can you please tell me the way your mother cooked the dish?’ Aunty comforted him at the same time taking out her kerchief and wiping the tears off the young soldier’s cheeks.

‘She boiled Chinbaung leaves both sour and bitter ones together and added pieces of roast fish. Put 3 or 4 spliced green chilies really big ones and stirred well. At close to finish added either mince leaves or coriander leaves,’ tearfully told the young soldier.

‘Okay I know now. Tomorrow I’ll ask the supply to buy what we need from the town market and I’ll cook for you myself,’ comforted Aunty.

Day after next day together with some other patients the young man happily ate his favorite Chinbaung dish Aunty had cooked. Aunty even cooked a couple more times that dish for him and he got well quick. He was discharged from the hospital and returned to his unit in a month time.

Then in 1953, I didn’t remember the exact date, we had a celebration play in our hospital for the October Revolution. The play was one scene play performed by our young nurses. On the well-lit stage the play started with one young red army soldier seeing his lover a young nurse. They had only 15 minutes as a strict hospital rule (the rule Aunty had laid down for her young nurses).

As two lovers talked a young sentry man stood nearby and watched the clock ticking slowly. And as soon as 15 minutes was reached he started blowing his whistle. The young woman was worried but the young man wouldn’t go as the sentry kept on blowing his whistle.

Fist he just blew short shrills as warning but the lovers wouldn’t part and the audience started laughing at the angry sentry man. So he blew a very, very long shrill and as the audience was laughing wildly the sentry man suddenly dropped onto the floor as if he was shocked. The lovers ran to him and called out aloud for help and other nurses came and tried to revive but he wouldn’t recover.

Horlicks Ad (1916).
Finally one nurse said aloud that she knew a medicine for the sentry and yelled out aloud, Om … Horlick! The sentry shook a little bit and the whistle still in his mouth produced a quiet short shrill. Then the nurse said, Om … Milo, and the sentry shook more and produced a louder shrill. Finally the nurse said, Om … Ovaltine, and the sentry completely recovered and stood up and blowing his whistle non-stop.

The plot ended amidst the loud laugh of audience but the young director had disappeared and hid from Aunty as the play was indirectly criticizing Aunty Daw Moe Swe for her strict 15 minutes rule of visiting time to her young nurses.

Instead of being angry our Aunty was laughing and laughing till the tears came down on her cheeks. The people sitting beside her even felt uncomfortable. And she just told them that the young people looked from only point of view of love but for her 15 minutes could be a crucial time of life or death for a wounded patient and so the rule was laid down. She added the young nurses would understand her later once they got a bit older. She could forgive anyone and everyone.”

According to Yebaw Ngwe Aunty Daw Moe Swe was a nursing sister from the Mandalay General Hospital. She was personally recruited into the Party by Thakhin Ba Hein one of the senior leaders of CPB. She took to the jungle together with two other nurses Ma Soe Soe and Ma Khin Mya Si to help the people with their medical and nursing knowledge.

Aunty Dwa Moe Swe was also known as Major Daw Moe Swe as her rank in the Red Army was a major. Her home town was Pakoku and after she was released as part of general amnesty in 1960 she went back home and lived together with her aging mother. She died peacefully later after visiting Rangoon and meeting me and other communist babies she had delivered in the jungle. She was never married.

May she rest in peace!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tin Than Oo: A Soldier, Writer, and Director

According to the National Library of Australia in Canberra more and more former Tatmadaw officers are publishing memoirs.

Most prominent one of these officer-writers had passed away on 5th November. Lt. Col Maung Maung Oo (a) Tin Than Oo (DSA) aged 57 died of chronic liver cirrhosis at the Army Base Hospital in Mingaladon.

He wrote many books and later became a famous (or infamous) director for directing a grand army propaganda film called “Lotus Blossoming at Dawn” involving the famous 68 film stars of Burmese film industry. The film basically portrayed the slanted-army-version of Modern Burmese History.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Burma in Limbo - Part 6

In the morning of 24 December 1948 a small detachment of armed Burmese police accompanied by a heavily-armed unit of Sitwundan, the feared Socialist-paramilitary, entered the large Karen village of Palaw situated between Tavoy and Mergui in the Tenasserim Division of Southern Burma. A model village with a fine church and its own middle school.

As a local operation for the government campaign of disarming the Karens the armed Burmese forcefully gathered the village elders and ordered them to hand over all their arms. Despite the anarchic conditions spreading all over Burma where Communists were in a full blown civil war with ruling Socialists while large gangs of dacoits freely roaming the lawless countryside the Karen elders reluctantly surrendered their weapons kept for the sole purpose of village self-defense.

What happened later that day was just an outright massacre for no valid reason other than the victims were Christian Karens the villains Buddhist Burmese. This extract is from the book “Memoirs of the Four-Foot Colonel” by General Smith Dun the first Commander-in-Chief of post-war Burmese Army and a Karen.

“This was Christmas Eve. The Karen elders conceded. Arms were handed over in the interest of peace and understanding. The Burmese police party was invited to attend the carol celebration of the night and partake of the usual X’mas eve refreshments. They did attend. The village assembled in the church before midnight to bring in the Christmas with bells and worship. The carol parties had met in the church after their rounds. Worship was begun.

Suddenly the explosions of grenades thrown into the church by the Burmese police who had surrounded the church disturbed the worship. Those who did not die in the church were mown down by automatic fire as they fled the church. Already other parties of the police set ablaze the village homes and schools. Most conservative estimates give the death roll in the church as over 300.”

Bad news always traveled fast and within a month all three Karen Rifle Battalions deserted Burmese Army and ignited the long simmering Karen-Burmese conflict into a full scale Karen-Burmese war which has never really ended. It all began in 1942 as Karen-Burmese riots in the Delta during the Second World War.

Karen-Burmese Riots  

During the sudden British retreat from Burma in late 1941 many hundreds of loyal Karen soldiers serving in the units of rapidly withdrawing British Burma Rifles and Burma Military Police deserted with arms and ammunition to mainly stay behind and defend their home villages in the Delta and other Karen regions like Tenasserim. Bassein and Myaungmya the two biggest towns in the Delta were basically left in the Karens’ hands by the leaving British administration.

When local Thakhins (members of staunchly anti-British Doh Bamar Asiayone) formed temporary administrations in the delta towns and tried to disarm them the Kraens had simply refused to cooperate. As BIA troops together with Japanese army units marched into the Delta and established the BIA administration the simmering conflicts between two races became riotous and the race riots spread all over Delta. This translated extract is from the autobiography “Saturday Born” by the former Prime Minister of Burma U Nu.

U Nu (1907-1995).
“Burmese are born-combative, loud-mouth people (Lu-Zwa) and the Karens are naturally passive, quiet people (Lu-Aye) so there are no real reasons for them to get into serious conflicts as they get along very well throughout our history. If we look at the crime statistics of pre-war Burma the perpetrators of most serious crimes like rapes, assaults, murders, robberies, and thefts were mainly Burmese. Almost no Karen could be found as a serious criminal.  

During the lawless period between the British retreat and the Japanese occupation of whole Burma many Burmese formed armed units as part of BIA. These irregular BIA units unlawfully confiscated (robbed) the valuables such as guns, money, cars, and jewelry from the public in many places.

In Myaung Mya District they tried to take guns away from the Karens. And Karens refused to surrender their arms as the country was basically in a lawless state. So there were fights between them and BIA in some places and finally spread to wherever Karen and Burmese live together in close vicinities. Burmese got hurt in places where Karens were stronger and Karens got hurt in where Burmese had numerical supremacy.”

U Nu a Mon-Burmese who was forced to fight KNDO eventually was born and raised in Delta among Karens and thus he didn’t have a drop of Karen-hating blood in him. This translated extract is from the book “The Insurgency - Volume I” published by the Myanmar Ministry of Information in 1990.

“In Myaung Mya, Bo Thein Swe and Thakhins took over the town administration even before the arrival of BIA and Japanese army. In February 1942 BIA entered Bassein and asked   Karens to leave town but the Karens had refused and instead asked BIA to leave the town. Bo Thein Swe negotiated with Karen leader Saw Ba Oo Gyi and achieved temporary peace between the Karens and BIA.

But the mutual distrust and suspicions between the BIA troops and armed Karens became increasingly widespread. The English spies among the Karen deserters were telling Karen public that Burmese would wipe-out the whole Karen race, while the narrow-minded BIA officers and troops hastily recruited during the emergency also believed that they had to attack Karens the British collaborators.

Accordingly the Karen villages armed themselves, heavily fenced the perimeters, posted armed guards at the gates, and stopped the contacts with neighboring Burmese villages as the local BIA units tried to forcefully disarm the Karen villages. Thakhin Than Lay was killed when the Karen deserters attacked the Bo La Yaung led BIA troops in Myaung Mya District. There were many deadly skirmishes between Karens and BIA as the Karens refused to surrender their arms.

And the skirmishes quickly turned into serious race riots between Karens and Burmese. Armed Karens raided Burmese villages and killed the whole village and the Burmese burnt and slaughtered the whole Karen villages in retaliation. Many villages were burnt down and thousands of lives lost.”

Irrawaddy Division.
The deadly race riots escalated into a full scale war when the British tried to establish anti-Japanese guerrilla forces with the loyal Karen soldiers left behind in the Delta. This translated extract is from Bragadier Kyaw Zaw’s Autobiography from the CPB’s website. Aung San and main force of BIA together with the Japanese Army were then chasing the retreating British army in Upper Burma and only Kya Zaw’s battalion was left in Rangoon as in-charge of Lower Burma.

“When the Karen problems started Bo Moe Gyo (Commander-in-Chief of BIA Colonel Suzuki) decided to handle the problem himself and sent Colonel Ijima with one of my BIA platoons to Myaung Mya. Then one night in early May 1942 two Japanese from Bo Moe Gyo’s HQ woke me up to tell me that the Radio New Delhi had just announced that one Japanese Colonel was killed in the ambush by a British-sponsored Karen guerilla unit in the Myaung Mya district.

They also let me know that Tokyo had known the death of Colonel Ijima and already ordered Bo Moe Gyo to retaliate. So next day I took three BIA companies and went to Myaung Mya together with Bo Moe Gyo. We retrieved Colonel Ijima’s corpse and spent two weeks attacking the Karen villages known to support the Karen guerillas.

Bo Moe Gyo directly ordered my officers to kill everyone in the villages if they resisted and sometimes he issued the kill orders through me. I ordered my officers only to attack resisting villages, for other villages my order was just to disarm them. I didn’t think many were killed then. Only when I got back Rangoon and after some months I realized that too many Karen villagers were killed.

The massacre was mainly because of Bo Moe Gyo’s order, and the outcome became so severe also because of the language difficulties with most of my raw BIA troops (as almost all of my troops were either Thai-Shans or Thai-Burmese from the Thai border and so couldn’t speak Burmese well at all).

Bo Moe Gyo was the commanding officer then, and as an inexperienced 23 year old soldier I was just following his orders. But I was responsible for what happened and if I had some political experience back then I could have avoided the whole massacre. Instead of killing all the villagers resisted I should handle the situation better by just burning only few Karen villages.”

Both Karen and Burmese leaders tried to stop the riots and killings. General Aung San issued directives to his BIA troops not to behave wantonly and Japanese also replaced BIA administration with Dr Ba Maw’s government administration. Finally BIA was reformed and withdrawn from all local administration as most Karen deserters also fled to Arakan Ranges towards British India.

Even Bo Moe Gyo issued a seven-point peace declaration and announced a general amnesty for the Burmese and Karen villages heavily involved in the riots. Eventually the cultivating season arrived and the villages went back to their normal routine and the riots died down.

But the mutual distrust between Karens and Burmese still simmered beneath the surface and reignited again in 1949. Especially when the Karens had the control of British re-formed Burma Regular Army after the independence, and the KNDO (Karen National Defense Organization) the armed wing of the KNU (Karen National Union) had a huge stockpile of arms and ammunitions courtesy of the leaving British army.


As a result of growing Karen nationalism and to effectively respond to the perceived or real threats from the Burmese majority the Karen National Union (KNU) was formed in 1947 by bringing together various Karen groups mainly from the Delta and other Karen domiciles on the eastern border lands. The well-known English-educated lawyer and Karen politician Saw Ba Oo Gyi was the first president of KNU.

Saw Ba Oo Gyi (1905-1950).
Born in Bassein in 1905 to a wealthy landlord and after completing a law degree in Rangoon University in 1925 and later in London Saw Ba Oo Gyi became a lawyer and was called to the English Bar two years later. He was the Minister of Revenue in the pre-war colonial Government in 1937. He became the Minister of Information from 1946 to February 1947 and then Minister of Transport in Aung San’s AFPFL Government before resigning in April 1947.

His major aims of forming the Karen Nation Union in 1947 were to represent unified Karen interests in post-independence Burma and to call on the British to allow the Karens their own state. This translated extract is from the book “The Insurgency - Volume I” published by the Myanmar Ministry of Information in 1990.

“After Aung San-Attlee Agreement was signed the representatives from all the Karen organizations sat together at a Karen conference on 4th February 1947. The conference rejected the Agreement.

Their reasons were that in the Agreement there were no Karen representative on the Burmese side, only few Karen members in the proposed Constituent Assembly, no separate Karen Battalions, no separate Karen State, and no consultations with any Karen.

The Karen National Union was formed on 6th April 1947 by combining KCO (Karen Central Organization), BKNA (Burma, Karen National Association), KYO (Karen Youth Organization), and KNA (Karen National Association). And on 16th April 1947, only 10 days after KNU’s formation the armed wing KNDO (Karen National Defense Organization) was initiated.”

Even though the Karens by then had guaranteed minority rights in the form of 22 reserved seats in the Legislative Council the main purpose of KNU was to press the departing British colonial government to establish a Karen state separated from soon-to-be independent Burma.

But the KNU had faced a serious hurdle since the formation as the Karen Youth Organization (KYO) did not really agree with KNU in their demand for separate nationhood. This extract is from the book “The Karen Revolution in Burma” by Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung.

“However, Josef Silverstein correctly points out that the public expressions of the Karens made it clear that they were less united in their demands for an autonomous state, being divided on its size, location, and relationship with Burma proper.

Specifically, two prominent Karen political organizations, the KYO and the KNU, were divided over the degree of political, economic, and cultural autonomy that would be enjoyed by the Karen state, as well as their territorial boundaries.

Formed in 1945 as the youth wing of the Karen Central Organization (KCO), the KYO advocated accommodation with the Burmese state and expressed willingness to compromise on issues related to the status and extent of any Karen state.

On the other hand, the KNU, formed in 1947 as an umbrella organization to represent all Karen groups, wanted to include the Irrawaddy Division and the Insein and Hanthawaddy Districts into the Karen state. The areas claimed by the KNU amounted to around one-third of Burma’s territories.

In the early days of Burma’s independence there were a number of high ranking government officials and ordinary Karens, both Buddhists and Christians, who, like the majority of  leading members of the KYO, did not join the (KNU/KNDO’s) armed resistance movement.”

Since the Karen-Burmese riots in 1942 most Karen villages armed themselves and started forming various village defense units. Combining these splintered forces together in 1947 the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO) was formed as the armed wing of KNU. By 1949 the well-armed KNDO troops at least 10,000 strong were right on the doorsteps of Rangoon and the Burmese public didn’t like it at all.

Twante Canal: The Gateway to Rangoon

Twante Canal at south-west of Rangoon.
The KNDO threats to Rangoon basically started from the repeated violent clashes between the Communists and the army for the control of 22 mile long British-built Twante Canal the only gateway to the delta and upper Burma both to and from Rangoon. This edited extract is from the book “Memoirs of the Four-Foot Colonel” by General Smith Dun the first Commander-in-Chief of post-war Burmese Army and a Karen.

“This little town had fallen several times to the Communists and each time was retaken by the regular troops, and, when conditions returned to normal, it was handed back to the civil authorities and police, only to fall back into the rebels each time. There were literally no regular troops to garrison it, hence my request to utilize the services of KNDO.

To prove their worth I ordered them to retake Twante which was once more in the hands of Communists. This was done with their own resources and without any support from the regular arms other than river transport. They wrested the town from Communists’ hands and garrisoned it, in accordance with their given orders.

Twante Town on the Canal.
Alas! Some vernacular papers, no doubt inspired by unscrupulous politicians, came out with bold headlines about atrocities committed by the Karens against the Burmese public. The official enquiry later revealed that the accusations were false and without foundation. But the communal tensions between the Karens and Burmese remained high, and clashes between the two occurred more frequently.”

Karens had always considered the Delta their principal homeland even though the Burmese and Mon-Burmese there outnumbered them. So the Twante Canal was the primary gateway to be kept under their control. Once Twante was occupied by the KNDO forces the door to Rangoon was wide open and KNDO moved thousands of heavily-armed militia from the Delta to the Karen Quarters at Ahlone, Thamaing, and Insein in the capital city and dug in for a long drawn-out stand-off with Burmese paramilitaries which had already encircled the Karen quarters.

The Beginning of Karen-Burmese War

Even though Kyaw Nyein and U Nu didn’t really want to fight the racial war Ne Win badly needed an all-out Karaen-Burmese war to rid of his boss General Smith Dun and cleanse the army of all the Karens. So while U Nu was eagerly trying to resolve the dangerous standstill by frantic negotiations with KNU’s Saw Ba Oo Gyi Ne Win launched an all-out attack on the KNDO positions in Rangoon.

This edited extract is from the book “Memoirs of the Four-Foot Colonel” by General Smith Dun the first Commander-in-Chief of post-war Burmese Army and a loyal Karen.

“But, still almost incredible, Saw Ba U Gyi at the risk of losing his leadership with his people pleaded for patience and forbearance as reported by his broadcast over the Rangoon radio for restraint and patience.

But alas, the last day of the first month of the New Year 1949 brought the last senseless act of brutality which set the Karens in open warfare with the Burmese Government. The day passed peacefully but not the night. Soon after midnight of the 31st, the Burmese troops surrounded the Ahlone Karen Quarters and awoke the sleepers with machine gun and mortar fires.

At the same time scores of houses were set ablaze. This slaughter of unarmed women and children continued for over two hours. By daylight a large portion of this Karen Quarter was reduced to ashes. Survivors were herded into the so-called refuge camp for safety and behind the barbed wires.

Meanwhile at 0700 hours on 31st January 1949 a Burmese soldier patrolling the Thamaing Karen Quarters fired three shots at a young Karen serviceman on a bus moving away from him. Evidently these three shots were a signal for a general attack on the Karen Quarters, because these three shots were immediately followed by a full blast of mortar, machine gun and rifle fire from the main detachment of Burmese Government troops stationed not 300 yards away.  

An all-out attack on Thamaing Karen Quarters was on, and thus began the full-scale war that has been going on ever since between the Karens and the Burmese Government.”

This extract is from the draft book of Colonel Maung Maung who then was the CO of Fifth Burma Rifles and later promoted to become the CO of Burmese Army’s Northern Division when the former CO Bo Kyaw Zaw was moved to Southern Division to fight the Insein Battle.

“It was Ne Win exhibiting a lot of ‘macho dare’ in military matters, as against wimpy Bo Let Ya hopelessly dependent on the advice of the British Services Military Mission (giving naturally adverse advice and plans of operations to keep themselves in control and help the insurgents Karens) who started anti- KNDO operations.

He had only 3 or 4 UMP battalions and his attack of Karen stronghold at Thamaing started the open insurrection of the madly anti-Burman and British loyalist KNDO groups openly concentrating in Insein Baptist Seminary and in Karen compounds near by areas, as at the Thamaing road junction with main Rangoon-Isnein road.

It was on 31 January 1949 that Ne Win made his move and led the attack at Thamaing junction dug in KNDO position and sent 2 UMP battalions to Seminary hill area and Insein town.”

What Ne Win did not realize was the KNDO forces were much stronger and more heavily-armed than the lightly-armed UMP battalions he had at the beginning of the Battle of Insein. Also to make his position more difficult all three Karen Rifles had mutinied and by the end of January the First Karen Rifles from Taungoo and the Second Karen from Prome were marching down towards Rangoon to help the KNDO troops digging-in at Insein. So General Smith Dun had to resign over the mutiny of all Karen Rifles Battalions.

General Ne Win (1911-2002).
Ne Win’s aim was now achieved as Smith Dun and all Karen troops were thus permanently out of the army and he was quickly promoted to Commander-in-Chief on 1st February 1949. But he never really was a competent field commander and once he ran into the solid wall of KNDO resistance at Insein he just broke down and gave up and U Nu and Kyaw Nyein finally had to fight the nasty race war he started. This extract is from the draft book of Colonel Maung Maung.

“In less than a month of directing this operations personally without the usual all staff conference and field commanders he (Ne Win) gave up and went to Prime Minister Thakin Nu and apologized for his failure and asked to be relieved of command and also to negotiate with insurgent BCP and install Thakin Than Tun and communist as government of Burma.

It was a complete loss of confidence in himself. Luckily U Nu was made of strong stuff and decided that he would lead the country back to normal and defeat the insurgents (Karens and Communists) by mobilizing the entire country behind the AFPFL.”  

The mutinies of some Burmese Rifles and all Karen Rifles basically decimated Burmese army. Only less than three thousand infantry was left in the Burmese Army in the beginning of 1949. But it was rapidly rebuilt to fight the escalating civil war. And Kyaw Nyein had bought too many Indian rifles to sit idle in the warehouses.

Responding to U Nu’s and Kyaw Nyein’s calls to the arms against Karens thousands and thousands of patriotic Burmese men and youths filled the rapidly-formed army and paramilitary units armed with cheap Indian rifles and they would eventually become the core of the staunch anti-ethnic, brutally-racist army that would rule Burma with iron fist till today.

One of the volunteers is young Than Shwe who many years later would become the Senior General and Dictator of Burma. Only 16 years old when he joined the First Infantry Battalion as a private and later rose through the ranks. He is the typical of military hardliners who by their bitter experiences from those brutal days simply believe the only way to maintain their Union of Burma was by force.

Battle of Insein

At that time Burmese Army had only two regional divisions North and South. The CO of the Southern Division Brigadier Aung Thin who had served loyally in the British Army for many years was a close friend and former (London Law School) classmate of KNU leader Saw Ba Oo Gyi. So Ne Win fired him and CO Colonel Kyaw Zaw of Southern Division was moved to take his position.

One of Aung San’s Thirty Comrades Colonel Kyaw Zaw took charge of Insein Battle and immediately went into action attacking Karens particularly hard with all available forces. This translated extract is from the autobiography “Saturday Born” by the former Prime Minister of Burma U Nu.

Insein location on Rangoon map.
“One morning Bo Kyaw Zaw came and saw me. He wanted to firebomb the Karen positions in Insein. Thus he wanted my permission to fly all available airforce planes over Insein and drop petrol and then drop torches. I knew I should allow him but I could not as the fireball would easily sweep over the town and destroy properties and civilian lives and create more racial and religious problems. After about five minutes of thinking I sent him away telling him to find other alternatives.”

Out of all senior Burmese officers Kyaw Zaw was the only high-ranking Communist still in the army even though he was a Central Committee member of CPB. He was also the officer well known for his successful campaign against Communist rebellion in Arakan in 1947 just before Independence.

Finally forced out off the army by Ne Win for secretly giving information to the CPB in 1957 Bo Kyaw Zaw eventually rejoined his comrades on the Chinese border in 1976. He is now an old exile in China’s Yunan Province. Today he is the only survivor of Aung San’s Thirty Comrades.

This translated extract (edited) is from his autobiography on the CPB website.

“In 1947 April Communist Tha Kyaw and monk U Seinda formed a rival government to Bogyoke Aung San’s AFPFL government and started a rebellion in Arakan. I was sent there as the CO of all government forces there to suppress the rebellion. There were over a thousand insurgents and I had under my command one UMP battalion and three regular battalions namely Third and Fifth Burma Rifles and First Chin Rifles.

After a few months of devastating operations the exhausted rebels moved their main force to the south to hide from us. They had to walk over 100 miles across the rough terrain. We comfortably followed them by boats and attacked them again in the south. And finally the rebellion collapsed.”

Then was Kyaw Zaw’s first time of using the Chin troops loyal to the Union against other ethnics rebelling against the Union Government. Notorious for their extreme brutality Chins in Burmese Army are selflessly brave and extremely competent soldiers like the Gurkhas in the British Army. One of them became real famous in Burma for his courageous actions during the Battle of Insein. His name is Aung-San-Thuria Bo Taik Chun.

Aungsan-Thuria Bo Taik Chun.
Aung-San-Thuria is the Burmese equivalent of Victoria Cross or the Congressional Medal of Honor. There are only 6 recipients and Taik Chun is the only one still alive when he was awarded while the rest were awarded posthumously. Already a proud owner of Burma Gallantry Medal for his behind-the-enemy-lines services in the British Army during the big war he was a Platoon Sergeant of the A Company of First Chin Rifles in Sitwe in 1947. This translated extract (edited) is from his biography written by Tekatho Sein Tin.

“The day the Communist attacked our Company other three platoons were on a long range patrol. CO and all other officers were away with the patrol and I the acting Company Sergeant Major had only one platoon with me.

They started firing at us at dawn 5:30 Am. We all jumped into the trenches as they unleashed all their weapons at us. Machine guns, Bren guns, mortars. We had only rifles and they were on the high ground too, hundreds and hundreds of them. We had less than forty with sea behind us. We had to fight for our lives as we had nowhere to flee.

Once the day was broken they were wildly swearing at us and yelling that if we Chins surrendered they would spare our lives. So I decided to trick them and slowly stood up raising my hands up too. I ordered 12 of my men to do the same while keeping the rest hidden in the trenches with their rifles ready.

Instead of ordering us to come up towards them they immediately came down to us happily thinking we had surrendered. The whole mob, flags flying and them cheering like a rioting mob not a victorious army. Once they were in our sights I sat down and ordered to fire. The mob was mercilessly mowed down. We killed at least 90 of them there without any casualty on our side and collected more than 300 guns discarded as they fled in all directions.”

But the Karens Kyaw Zaw and Taik Chun were facing then in Insein were totally different from the Communist peasants from Arakan backwaters. Karens were well-trained disciplined soldiers and they had dug in too well for the attacking Burmese and Chin troops. Even with massive casualty on Burmese and Chins they couldn’t dislodge the determined Karens. This translated extract (edited) is from Bo Kyaw Zaw’s autobiography on the CPB website.

Bo Kyaw Zaw (retired) in China.
“For three main reasons the Insein Battle was the most difficult one in my military experiences. First reason was our lack of experience in attacking well-defended enemy positions. The second was the expertise of KNDO officers who had fought in the British Army and so well versed in defensive battles. The third was the determination of Karen troops. Karen nationalism was at its height and Insein was their very home well worth defending doggedly.

There were three hills on the edge of Insein and they dug in well on these hills and we couldn’t dislodge them. We had no artillery and our two 27 tons Stuart tanks had no shells to fire. So we had to use the infantry and our troops suffered heavily.

There was one fight I would never be able to forget. On February 28 the Fifth Burma Rifles launched an uphill attack to take a low hill on the site of now Rangoon Institute of Technology. The Fifth was brought back from Arakan and they had never met the KNDO on a battle before and so they treated them lightly and ended up paying dearly. They lost the whole attacking company including the CO Major Hla Thaung. Eighty were killed and 120 wounded.

During the battle Major Hla Thaung reported to me about his difficulties so I went and saw him. We two crawled under a big tree and reviewed the situation and discussed what to do next. After that I crawled out first from the tree and left him there as it was a military custom for the most senior person to leave first. As soon as I got back to my Forward Command HQ I learned that he was killed by a KNDO sniper as he was crawling out from under that big tree right after I left.”

Started by Ne Win with only three lightly-armed UMP battalions the Insein Battle was now being fought by all the Burma Rifle battalions of Burmese Army including the Chin Rifles. The Chins particularly were really aggressive against the Karens as they and the Karen Rifles were against the CPB rebels before. This translated extract (edited) is from Taik Chun’s biography written by Tekatho Sein Tin. Taik Chun was then a lieutenant of First Chin Rifles on the Insein frontline.

“Karens were well dug in at Kyot-gone U Setkain Monastry which was like a well-protected fortress on the steep hill. The troops from the Fifth Burma could not take the Monastery so they asked us the First Chin to help. The plan was me and four Chins would launch a surprise attack from behind while the Burmese waited at the front.

I picked a sergeant, a corporal, a lance, and a private and approached the Monastry through wild Bamboo brushes which is now RIT campus. I had a Sten, a revolver, and two hand-grenades while the sergeant had a Sten and five hand-grenades. The corporal had a Bren with 12 magazines. The rest had Stens and hand-grenades.

We took off our uniforms and dressed like civilians and hid our guns underneath our torn sarongs. Starting at midday we crawled through the thick bamboo and once we hit the low fence behind the monastery we re-barreled the Bren and cocked the Stens and pulled the pins of our grenades and held them ready in our hands. Then we jumped over the fence, spread wide left to right, and ran fast towards the Karens.

We found the Karens resting after repelling repeated Burmese frontal assaults. Except for the front unit watching the nearby Burmese positions the rest were taking a break. Some cooking, many eating, some sleeping, and a small crowd was even playing card games, all inside the small open buildings (Za-yats) for monks.

My sergeant threw two grenades into the lunch crowd and then sten-gunned the survivors. I also threw a grenade into the card playing mob and my men bren-gunned the runners. We killed eleven there and captured alive three. Only my corporal was killed by a sniper’s bullet through his forehead after the raid. The enemy withdrew from there to the nearby Public Work Department’s Banglo which was fenced by barbed-wires and fortified with earth bunkers.

We were given a rest break at Mingaladon while the Burma Rifles were attacking the PWD site for many days. They were unsuccessful again. Karen snipers were so overwhelming the Burmese couldn’t even retrieve their fallen. So we had to help them again.

We went in at midnight that time. We five Chins crawled through no-man land in the dark and reached their wires. We cut the wires with our pliers and once inside my sergeant at the front discovered their lone sentry was asleep at his station. The sergeant pulled his hair and stabbed his throat through with the bayonet to silence him.

But he still groaned and released a series of death yells and woke the sleeping Karens in the bunkers. But it was too late for them as we were already inside the wires. Before they could pick up their guns we mowed them down with our bren and Stens. We killed twelve that night and wounded many others. They fled as the waiting Burmese came in through the holes we cut in the wires.”

On 4th April a temporary cease-fire was agreed between two warring sides. Saw Ba Oo Gyi and KNU/KNDO delegation came out of Insein to negotiate for a permanent cease-fire. Saw Ba Oo Gyi even stayed at U Nu’s house during the negotiations. But sadly the peace talks soon collapsed and the hostilities restarted again in the evening of 8th April.

Brigadier Kyaw Zaw wrote in his autobiography that he strongly suspected the First Karen Rifles coming down from Taungoo had prohibited the peace talks and thus the KNDO in Insein terminated the cease-fire. The ambitious plan of the First Karens was together with the KNDOs in Insein to take Rangoon as they then had almost reached Pegu on the Mandalay-Rangoon Highway.

Fall of Mandalay  

Mandalay Division.
While Insein Battle was raging other intensive battles between the Karens and Burmese were also breaking out all over Burma. This translated extract (edited) is from Bo Kyaw Zaw’s autobiography on the CPB website.

“And two Karen Rifles, Second Karen from Prome and First Karen from Taungoo were also marching down to Rangoon and Twante Canal was blocked by the KNDO forces. Our Government was basically trapped in Rangoon as the only way in and out of Rangoon was Mingaladon Airport and the Western Press started calling our Government the Rangoon Government.

I brought back Third Burma Rifles from the Delta by boats via sea route and sent them up towards Prome. They met the Second Karen at the village of Wetkaw near the town of Nattalin and basically destroyed the Karens as their CO Lt. Colonel Saw Mya Maung was inferior to the CO of Third Burma Lt. Colonel Chit Myaing.

Apart from the KNDO forces at Insein the only serious threat left was the combined force of the First Karen and KNDO militia from the Karen stronghold of Taungoo. That force now was more than a thousand strong and they were on their way to Insein in a long convoy on the Rangoon Mandalay Highway. Our Sixth Burma Rifles together with two UMP battalions were waiting for them at Pegu which would become a major battleground”

This translated extract (edited) is from Myat Htan’s autobiography. He was then the 2IC of Sixth Burma Rifles in Pegu.

“At the beginning of 1949 I was sent to Meikhtila to run two of our companies sent there a few months before to replace the Third Chin Rifles which was running field operations in the Loikaw area of the Kayah Land. When I got there the companies from my Sixth Burma were no longer in Meikhtila. They were in Loikaw instead by the orders of Northern Command.

Meikhtila had no government forces except a battalion of Siwundan led by young Captain Tint Swe (who became a general and the Minister for Industry 1 during long Ne Win’s rule). They were surrounded by massive Karen forces. Pakoku, Mandalay, and Taungoo were all occupied by the Karen Rifles and the Karen UMP battalions. Rangoon-Mandalay rail line was also controlled by armed Karen units. I finally reached to my two companies at Loikaw together with Third Chin Rifles.

On 27th January 1949 the First Karen Rifle took over Taungoo and on 4th February the Second Karen occupied Prome and both Karen battalions marched south towards Ranggon to meet up with KNDO forces in Insein. But both Karen battalions were repelled and almost destroyed on their ways by the Burma Rifles waiting for them.”

Colonel Tin Maung (Myat Htan) was sent back to Meikhtila without his troops and when he touched down in Meikhtila it was too late to defend the town. The CO of Northern Command Colonel Maung Maung and his staff officers were already captured alive by the Karens and Myat Htan had only two captains and a section of signalmen trapped with him in his battalion compound as the Karens were rapidly approaching. This translated extract (edited) is from his autobiography.

“Pyawbwe was fallen and Thazi could also be lost as an enemy column might already be there. We couldn’t go to Myingyan as a company from Third Karen Rifles was there. Also there were Communists in Kyaukpadaung and Yenangyaung. Only escape for us is towards Mandalay.

I ordered the signalmen with the truck to rush straight to Mandalay and the big car was started and they sped out of the compound. We jumped into the station-wagon. I sat beside the Gurkha driver with my carbine cocked and two captains in the back with their rifles ready. We sped through the gate and once out of the compound I could see through the rear windscreen the groups of green-clad armed-figures crossing the road behind and running into the battalion compound.

It was 20th February 1949 the day we had to abandon Meikhtila into the Karen hands.

On our way near Kyaukse we ran into a convoy of troops led by Captain Tin Oo (Who became a C-in-C of Burmese Army and later NLD Chairman). I stopped them and placed them in Kyaukse as a defense position against the Karens advancing north from Meikhtila. We reached Mandalay at sunset and immediately met up with other officers at the UMP battalion inside the Palace Walls.

We decided to maintain the troops at Kyaukse and also to establish a major defense line at Myitnge. But next day we had a really bad news. Maymyo was taken by the rebelling Kachin Rifles led by Naw Sai on the same day as Meikhtila was fallen. A UBA plane had landed in Meikhtila that day and been taken over by the Karens and Kachins. They loaded the plane with the troops and forced the English captain to fly to Maymyo.

They landed in Maymyo, disarmed the Burmese troops there, and rearmed the interned Karen troops. And they immediately called us to surrender as we were now trapped between the Karens coming up from Meikhtila in the South and the combined Kachins and Karens coming down from Maymyo in the North.

We pulled our troops back from Kyaukse to Myitnge and then tried to retake Maymyo without success. I was then called back to Rangoon and a few days later all our forces crossed Irrawaddy to Sagaing (and the Sagaing Bridge over the Irrawaddy was blown up).

Mandalay fell into Karen hands on 11th March 1949.”

By then PM U Nu the devout Buddhist without any military experience was basically fighting the Karen-Burmese war all over Burma. This translated extract (edited) is from the autobiography “Saturday Born” by the former Prime Minister of Burma U Nu.

“Soon after the Karen rebellion broke out about 200 armed Karens marched towards Henzada. Nearly 300 Karen civilians also came along with them to carry the loots after the town is taken. They had a Second World War tank refitted with two Bren guns.

Inside Henzada on Burmese side there were only a few police, UMP, and Sitwundans. But they had old six-pounder cannon with only one shell. So they positioned their cannon just outside the town and waited. When the Karen tank reached near they fired the only shell and luckily hit the tank. Once the tank was destroyed the Karens broke rank and fled.

The town folks invited me and I went there with a naval escort. I planted a small banyan tree in the town-monastery’s compound and gave encouragement speeches to our Governement forces there. On the way back on the Pantanaw River just after Nyaungdon we were attacked by Karens and a young naval officer was wounded.

In mid February 1949 Bo Naw Sai led First Kachin Rifles mutinied from Pyimanar where they were stationed to fight the CPB rebels. He colluded with the rebelling First Karen Rifles and marched north to capture one town after another in Upper Burma. They rearmed and absorbed the Karen forces interned in Maymyo and that combined rebel force took Mandalay on March 13.

I didn’t even need to say that I was extremely disappointed after hearing the bad news as Mandalay is the Capital of Upper Burma and the second biggest city of Burma. I then heard the news that the remnants of our Government forces were re-gathering in Sagaing. So I flew to Shwebo and then drove to support our Government men at Sagaing about 60 miles away.

While other civilian officials and the military leaders were organizing to retake Mandalay I stayed and prayed on the ground of Pone-nya-shain Zedi for three days since I didn’t really understand the business of fighting a war. I’d stayed in Sagaing till the end of March and came back to Rangoon only when U Kyaw Nyein sent an urgent telegraph.”

Near-Collapse of Rangoon Government

The shocking news of the collapse of his AFPFL government was waiting in Rangoon for the besieged Prime Minister of Burma U Nu. This is the edited translation of parts of Chapter 23   from the autobiography “Saturday Born” by the former Prime Minister of Burma U Nu.

“When I arrived back in Rangoon the mass resignation of all the Socialist and PVO ministers from my Government was in the newspapers. Within an hour from my arrival one ex-minister came and saw me.

He just simply said that Ne Win and his officers kept on saying to them that their army was not the guard dogs for the ministers and they were not willing anymore to risk their lives fighting for the prime minister and they should just let the insurgents form a new government. And the ministers couldn’t take their threats anymore and resigned en masse.

I told him they should at least wait for me in such crucial decision. He replied that they gave a lot of thoughts and since I would never let them resign anyway they just quit before I came back. And he also told me that they had insisted to the army that I must still be the Prime Minister when they formed a new government with the rebels. As the main part of AFPFL they would support me.

Before his explanation I was really angry at them Socialists. I was even thinking that these cowards saw the insurgents winning the battles and so they abandoned my government and I’d even decided to fight alone and kick the bloody Socialists out off AFPFL. Only now I couldn’t be angry at them anymore as they had a right reason to quit.

When he left my house I sat down alone thinking aloud that the White PVO had left our AFPFL, the policemen had left the Police Force, the soldiers had left the Army, and no one seemed to be with me. I was so depressed I just went into the Buddha’s Room and chanted prayers as usual as whenever I was depressed.

Eight in the morning next day U Kyaw Nyein and Bo Ne Win came and saw me. Bo Ne Win didn’t say a thing. U Kyaw Nyein started by saying that as I already knew they all quitted the government as the security situation had worsened and he didn’t need to explain anymore. If I wanted I could invite the Communist and Karen leaders to from a new government.

I replied by saying that I would never form a government with the insurgents and whatever happens let it happen. And I appointed Bogyoke Ne Win the deputy Prime Minister and Dr Aye Maung the Foreign Minister and reassigned the independent ministers other vacant ministries.”

Even in these horribly hopeless situations our PM U Nu was not giving up and he would fight for the survival of his beloved Union of Burma. This is the edited translation of parts of Chapter 24 from the autobiography “Saturday Born” by the former Prime Minister of Burma U Nu.

“Soon after the formation of new government without the Socialists and PVO the Foreign Minister told me the ambassadors from Britan, India, Pakistan, and Ceylon were asking to see me for they wanted to lend Burma a sum of 6 million pound sterling. It was very good news as at that time we were basically broke and we didn’t even have money for the salaries of government employees.

UBA's Dakota.
So I told the Foreign Minister to bring them next day. So they came. The Indian, Pakistan, and Ceylon ambassadors, led by the British ambassador. British ambassador Carr made me happy and smiling again by saying that with the agreement of the governments of British Commonwealth the British Government would lend 6 million pounds to the Union of Burma. But it had a condition attached. The condition was we had to start negotiating for peace with the KNU.

I was really angry and so I told Dr Aye Maung in Burmese to tell them to go home. But I knew immediately I’d done wrong again. Later I kept on saying aloud to myself that I’d always made decisions without giving enough thoughts and that annoyed and upset my wife.  So I admitted my mistake at the ministerial meeting and later Dr Aye Maung met again with the British ambassador without me and finally managed to get that crucial loan of 6 million pounds without any attachment.

Then was the darkest hour of the Union and I was basically alone fighting the war. One day all the political leaders of Shan, Kaya, Kachin, and Chin states altogether visited me and immediately asked if I had any plan to abandon Rangoon if the situations worsened. If I had they wanted to know in advance as my government could move to one of their states and keep on fighting the Communists and Karens. What they needed was just the guns and they would never betray my Union Government. Their sincere words affected me so much that I almost cried and couldn’t say a word back to them. I just promised them I would get the guns from India.

They were right as the situations then were almost hopeless. At that night we heard the bad news that Naw Sai’s Kachin Rifles together with the First Karen rifles were coming out of Mandalay and on their way to Rangoon. There were no government forces along the Rangoon-Mandalay highway. Then I got a telephone call from the Police Chief of Pegu District. He was basically begging me to send him rifles and bullets as he needed to arm the willing civilians to stop the Karens. I promised him and later went to India and got the promise from Nehru to sell us more rifles and ammunitions.

Catalina Waterplane.
Land and water transport then were completely shut by the insurgents and so we had to send whatever troops and weapons we had to the still-government-controlled towns all over Burma by government-owned Dakotas. But the Dakotas were flown by the strictly law-abiding British pilots and they simply refused to fly the planes carrying the soldiers and war weapons. So the troops had to take off their uniforms and hide their weapons in gunny-bags. Even then some pilots still refused to fly.

So we had to hire Catalina water planes from Americans and the American pilots had no qualms about ferrying the troops and their weapons. With new planes and also the new rifles from Nehru we built new forces for the army, police, and military police and also replaced the existing old and damaged rifles.

By mid November 1949 with these new well-equipped troops we gradually recaptured the towns and villages from the insurgents one by one slowly.”

Soon the government forces together with the well-armed Burmese paramilitaries would push the Communists and the Karens out of major population centers and forced them onto the fringe of thick jungles on ragged mountain ranges.

Burma in Limbo - Part 1
Burma in Limbo - Part 7